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tv   Nightline  ABC  March 4, 2011 11:35pm-12:00am EST

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tonight on "nightline," the family business. he was born into the mafia. she married into the mob. but when he wanted out, one imposing man stood in miss way, his father. >> oh, no. he's going to kill me. a family torn apart. >> he could not stand up for me. >> and a son's decision to sell out his dad and give the felts the most mob convictions in american history. and, for the people. they were indie rock pioneers with "the one i love." now, they're rock and roll icons. so, what's on michael stipe's playlist tonight? >> announcer: from the global resources of abc news, with
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terry moran, cynthia mcfadened and bill weir in new york city, this is "nightline," march 4th, 2011. >> good evening. despite what "the godfather" taught us, most self-respecting mobsters hope all their sons find a legitimate line of work. but one chicago hitman had no such parental instrict. he pulls his son into the mob and it cost him. for the first time ever, you're about to hear from the most important mafia turn coat in recent history. the man at the center of what the fbi called operation family secrets. a few nights a month, patrons pile into this trendy phoenix restaurant with no idea that the man making their pizza is a member of one of the most notorious crime families in america. >> stone oven here. >> reporter: his name is frank calabrese jr. and his father frank sr. is serving multiple life sentences for killing 13 people while stealing and loan
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sharking millions as a made man in the outfit, a chicago mob notorious since the days of al capone. did he have a signature? >> yeah. when he was killing, he wanted to make sure you were dead. so, he loved to strangle you and cut your throat from ear to ear. >> reporter: just to make sure? >> just to make sure. >> reporter: seeing this family in this setting, you'd never know that she was once an unwitting mob wife. somebody asked, what does your husband do, what would you say? >> he worked for the city. which he did. ignorance was bliss for me. >> reporter: and if you met him on the street, you'd never imagine that within the outfit, he went from respected enforcer to reviled rat by helping the fbi put his own father away for life. >> i call myself a lot of things but i don't call myself a rat and why? rats run and hide. i don't. i can't run and hide. i'm a cooperating witness.
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i'm a turn coat. i'm a bad son, whatever you want to call me. but i don't feel that i'm a rat. >> reporter: but before the turn, he was his father's favorite son in almost every way. you say you were ready to but never killed. >> correct. i fought a lot. i broke bones. >> reporter: i can't help but notice that you're sitting with your back to the door. >> i need to live my life and i can't live it wondering if somebody is going to come in and get me. i'm getting more comfortable with sitting with my back to the door but i still do like to sit -- >> reporter: where you can see what's what? >> yeah, but you got that seat first. >> reporter: to give us a sense of his old life, frank agreed to come back to chicago, back to the chinatown area where his father's crew worked. >> he got gunned down on the right side of the street. >> reporter: and elm wood park, where they lived. >> it's been a long time. and this is -- it's weird. weird right now. joe? how are you?
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i just got you on facebook, right? >> i saw it. >> you're still over here, right? >> reporter: you're like the mayor. >> if i go into chinatown, i might not get that kind of reception. >> reporter: they called this the compound. on occasion, fbi agents watching out front. >> we were playing out here and i seen them. we went over to the car, they laid down to pretend they were sleeping. >> reporter: as a child, frank says he only had a vague sense of what his father did for a living. but when "the godfather" was in theaters, friends made the connection. >> there was a lot of talk. >> reporter: it glamourized your father's work. >> exactly. and you see how my dad was treated. >> reporter: at the height of your dad's earning power, how much money did he have? >> i would say around $10 million plus. >> reporter: in cash? >> yeah. >> reporter: just stashed --
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>> in walls. in car panels. anywhere he could stash cash. >> reporter: while frank says he had no interest in joining the outfit, he worshipped his dad. and as he got older, his grooming intensified. >> you need to do this. you're my son. i need you there. my father was a master manipulator. >> reporter: as a teen, he was sent to collect pay offs from x-rated bookstores. and over time, his father hinted that murder would be part of the game. >> he says, if you want to see if a friend is a good friend, he says, throw some sheets in the trunk, say, hey, i need your help, i accidentally buried somebody, you got to help me. who goes with you? that's how you tell that's a good friend. >> reporter: frank sr. also manipulated his brother nick into joining the crew. in fact, uncle nick was part of the hit team that killed the
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splatro brothers. >> my uncle never killed for money. he never killed because he got mad at anybody. he only killed when ordered to. >> reporter: he admitted that he wet himself in fear after his first hit. >> my uncle was a tough guy. but he's a nice guy. he has a heart. >> reporter: but frank's father wasn't quite so sensitive. on a tour of their old mob territory, he took us to one of the many so-called work garages where his dad and uncle would stash cars, weapons and torture the occasional enemy. >> for some reason, a lot of chicago guys tortured. tortured their victims before they killed them. >> reporter: but it was a moment in another garage that stands as the symbol of their dysfunction. a frustrated frank jr. had stole from his father, was trying to pay him back but it wasn't fast enough for the old man. >> when i walked in and he closed the door, all of a sudden it hit me. made me park my car somewhere else. he turned around, i seen that
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1,000 yard blood shot stare, glassy-eyed stare. and that's when he grabbed me and stuck the gun in my face and he said, you're going to disobey me and i can't control you, i'd rather have you dead. >> reporter: his father forced his wife to sign a blank pre-nup. >> i was intimidated, you know, but after i met him, i'm like, he seems nice, you know? and that's the sociopath part of it, you know? he seems real nice and once you're in the family and you see what he does to the family and that umbrella effect, how he, you know, what he does effects everybody. >> reporter: the more frank jr. learned about the outfit and his father's controlling ways, the less he liked both. and after starting a family, frank jr. began looking for a legitimate way to pay back his dad and break away for good. so, he started a small car detailing business. >> and we had the detail shop.
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>> reporter: but it wasn't long before frank sr. tried to muscle his own son for a piece of the action. but the felts wefeds were watch. and with a witness, the felts h feds had enough. >> i lived right across the street from an immigration judge. >> reporter: when the crew was arrested, his father's hypocrisy was truly revealed. after years of preaching family loyalty, he was fuhrly out for himself. >> he ittells me, you know the money you owe me, i says, yes. he says, i'll call it even, you plead guilty for me, too. here's my father that's supposed to be a man's man and i'm thinking, i got a son at the time. i would never do that to my son. >> reporter: so, frank jr. decided that prison would be his way out of the outfit and away from his father. he pled guilty to racketeering, agreed to serve five years. but in a twist of fate, his father was transferred to his same prison and began the same
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old manipulation. but for the first time in his life, frank jr. decided to take control. >> i think about when he was in the cafeteria with rocky talking about killing guys and how rocky used to kill guys. >> reporter: you'll see how operation family secrets unfolded. >> i wanted it to be over. >> and how it tore the calabr e calabreses apart, when "nightline" continues. an ibm computer system named watson won jeopardy. but the real winner? human kind. life is really about questions and answers. this technology can help us get some of those answers. we're going to revolutionize many, many fields with this new capability: healthcare, government, finance, anywhere decision- making depends on deeper understanding of the huge wealth of information that's out there. i thought the game was the end... i'm realizing it's just the beginning. that's what i'm working on. i'm an ibmer.
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>> announcer: "nightline" continues from new york city with bill weir. >> we return now to the story of a family torn apart by the mob. even in prison, frank calabrese jr. could not escape his hitman
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father's devious reach. so, he devised a plan to set himself free, for good, though it meant crossing the man he feared more than any other. frank calabrese taught his son everything he knew about the mob. he had no idea his son would eventually use those skills against him. fed up with the mob life and his father's ways, frank couldn't wait to plead guilty, just to get away from the man. when they ended up in the same michigan prison, he made the gu gut-wrenching decision to sit down and write a letter to the fbi, offering to help put his father away for life. >> what are i options? are there any good options? no. i'm either going to testify against my father and wait until we get on the street and one of us is going to wind up dead, one of us is going to be in jail. >> reporter: he agreed to wear a wire and dupe his dad into thinking he wanted back into the outfit. >> the poor guy was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
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we were hoping that he was going to be alone. >> reporter: but if his father, or any of the other prisoners discovered what he was up to, he could pay with his life. >> it was tense. very, very tense, during the times where he was out making the recordings. >> reporter: either he came back or you heard the alarm go off, right? >> that's exactly right. >> reporter: over the course of several months, over hours of recordings, frank sr. describes many murders. >> big, big bearings. so them will [ bleep ] tear half your body apart. >> so they must have -- >> oh, yeah, tore them up bad. tear your body up. >> reporter: years later, at the biggest mob trial in chicago history, frank sr. listened to his own words and then watched his own brother and son, now hobbled by ms, testify against him. >> he's sitting there, he's aged, and it was just that look, like, you wanted to go over there and hug him. oh, my god, that's my father. and i was so overwhelmed with
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emotion. >> reporter: operation family secrets brought some of the most sweeping convictions in american mob history. and though he admitted to 14 murders, uncle nick is up for parole in 2013. having done his time, frank now lives in phoenix. prison cost him his marriage but his ex-wife and grown kids live nearby, all still working on their still raw wounds. >> you know, even though we're no longer together, you know, i still -- i love him. he's like my best friend. it's the history i can't move past. and i've tried. >> i still haven't gotten through "good fellas," can't watch those movies. they get to me really bad. >> movies portray organized crime as this luxurious, beautiful thing that everybody's taken care of and there's all these loyalties. and in reality, there's not. they're only good for what they'll use you for and your
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life is not worth nothing. when you bring it into your family, it's going to rip your family apart. my family is a prime example of that. >> reporter: frank jr.'s book, "operation family secrets", is in stores next week. well, if you walked anywhere near a radio in the '90s, you can probably hum r.e.m. team. and we sit down with michael stipe, next. [music playing] confidence available in color.
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in the early '90s, r.e.m. recorded three albums that went quadruple platinum. 4 million cop pips each. since then, michael stipe has done successful work in film and tv, fashion, activism. but music has always been his prime muse. and here he is, with tonight's play list. ♪ that's me in the corner
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♪ that's me in the spotlight ♪ losing my religion >> when r.e.m. started, it never occurred to me that i would have to write songs. i just liked the idea of doing it. i didn't really have the skills or the knowledge of doing it. ♪ michelle my bell ♪ these are words that go together ♪ >> the first song as a child that really resonates with me was a beatles song, "michelle." my father was stationed in the army in frankfurt, germany, and i was staying with a german friend who was making cabbage soup for me and had this radio up on a tall shelf and i heard this song coming on. ♪ michelle my bell beautiful. the thing that makes it wild is that years later i made a comment to "rolling stone" that
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the beatles, for me growing up with elevator music. it was taken wildly out of context and i still receive death threats from beatles fans years later. i sat down at a table with yoko ono and sean lennon and they were teasing me about it and i was apologizing and they were like, michael, calm down, it's okay. maybe the death threats will stop if you put this on tv. ♪ sugar ♪ oh honey honey >> the song "sugar sugar." i remember building a wall between myself and my sisters at the breakfast table with, using cereal boxes. but one of the boxes had a whole in the middle of it, because you god a 45 on the back. i remember cutting it out and placing it on the turn table. it was fantastic. ♪ you know i read it in a magazine ♪ ♪ b-b-b-benny and t nn nnyb-b-b♪
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>> it sounds like a live performance. there's a giant kind of tack piano and elton singing in this high voice and this audience kind of clapping and shouting behind him. really, the production of the song is so whacked out. ♪ daddy don't leave me here alone ♪ >> then i was wildly teenage and started hearing about the punk rock scene that was happening in norg, including patti smith. and the day that her first album came out, "horses," i went to the record store and bought it and sat up all night listening to it. the song on that record that turned my head upside down and i was a song called "birdland." that experience as a 15-year-old is what led me to the rash decision that i should start a
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band and become a singer. ♪ could there ever ♪ expect such a >> new york dolls had a song called "frankenstein." i bought it at grandpa's. and seeing the new york doll, oh, my god. it was mind blowing. as a young man struggling with my sexuality, trying to figure out who i was as a teenager, here are these games dressed like women, singing like men, called the new york dolls. it was fantastic. ♪ smell like honey >> the new r.e.m. album comes into stores on tuesday called "collapse into now." thanks for watching abc


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